This guide provides a an overview of newly introduced offences for unauthorised disclosure of information about ‘special intelligence operations’, how they operate and the extent to which they apply to public interest disclosures.
The offences for unauthorised disclosure of information about a ‘special intelligence operation’ were one of the most controversial aspects of the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014 (NSLA Bill). The Bill was passed by both Houses of Parliament (with some amendments, including to the offences) and became an Act on 2 October 2014. Debate about the offences was re-ignited when Australian Labor Party front-bencher Anthony Albanese commented on them in an interview on 12 October 2014, in which he suggested they go too far and should be monitored closely. The debate remains relevant in the context of a similar offence relating to delayed notification search warrants proposed in the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill 2014, which is currently before the Senate.
These offences are different to longstanding secrecy offences such as the offence in section 70 of the Crimes Act 1914, which criminalises unauthorised disclosure of official information by someone who is or was a Commonwealth officer. They apply more broadly to any person who discloses particular information, raising concerns that they may inappropriately capture legitimate reporting.
This Quick Guide provides a brief factual overview of the offences, how they operate and the extent to which they apply to public interest disclosures.